Pope Francis’ compassion encourages gay Catholics to celebrate his presence on the border

One El Pasoan who is super excited by Pope Francis’ visit this week to Juarez, is 19-year-old UTEP student Gilbert Lopez, a practicing Catholic who is gay. He credits this pope and his compassionate words and attitude toward homosexuals for motivating him to come out as a gay teenager. “When I was not accepting of my sexuality, when I would come in contact with homosexuals, it was either you’re religious or you’re not,” said Lopez, who considers himself a devout Catholic and is a member of his church choir. “A lot of times people who are homosexual aren’t religious because of the way people talk about it. They get discouraged,” he said.

Members of the M Factor distribute condoms at Cincinnati district. (Michelle Blanks/Borderzine.com)

Group fights stigma and discrimination to promote HIV education and prevention

EL PASO – Five young adults wearing Mardi Gras masks and beads handed out baggies containing condoms and lubrication to persons in a crowd celebrating to the heavy syncopated beat of dance and electronica music on an icy-cold downtown street. Members of The M Factor a local program, part of the national MPowerment Organization, went from bar to bar on Stanton Street where a large number of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) venues are located. The baggies they passed out held two packages of lubrication, six to eight condoms, and one business card. Their goal is to teach HIV prevention and education and Mardi Gras was an opportunity to reach out to the LGBT community. “For the HIV testing program, we provide free rapid HIV testing, blood testing, free syphilis testing to the public, and free anonymous or confidential counseling services for them,” said Irene Ovalle, a public health supervisor in the Department of Public Health for the city of El Paso who oversees The M Factor and the HIV testing outreach programs.

“This program creates a social setting and gets men out of bars, sex clubs and risky situations and into more social settings where they can meet other men and talk and have conversations,” said David Peralta-Torres, The M Factor’s HIV Education and Prevention Specialist.

"Since I grew up in a really strict Christian family, it was hard to express myself", said Daniel Falcon. (Kimberly Garcia/Borderzine.com)

Fledgling media project born in El Paso aims to promote tolerance on a global scale

EL PASO – Sitting on the couch, a shy look on his face, he looks at his boyfriend working on a laptop. Almost as if sensing his anxiety the boyfriend flashes a reassuring smile. He responds back with a smile, takes a deep breath, his shy demeanor replaced with confidence. “I have had people tell me that I was going to burn in hell,” said Daniel Falcon, 22, “that I should reconsider my sexuality.”  Falcon, a recent nursing grad, speaks of the stigma and criticism of being gay that he faces in his everyday life. “It has happened to me a couple of times that if I’m holding my partner’s hand [people] have something to say to me,” said Falcon.

Female impersonator, Nathan Knight Jones, is better known on stage as Serena. (Erica Mendez/Borderzine.com)

Gender change is a form of self-expression for Serena

EL PASO – Dripping in diamonds, teased hair, and false lashes, she looks like a beauty queen singing and dancing, but the performer onstage is a creation by female impersonator Nathan Knight Jones. “I’m very flirtatious when I perform. The music that I choose is usually music that is going to let me interact with whomever is in the audience,” said Jones. Known as Serena when in drag, Jones has been a female impersonator in El Paso for the past two years. Competing against nine other contestants, he won the 2010 Newcomer of the Year title awarded by The New Old Plantation, or The Op, one of the more popular gay clubs in the El Paso’s LGBT scene.